I'm Not Struggling With My Mental Health Right Now. Why Don't I Feel Relieved?


One of the most well-documented aspects of mental illness is disordered thinking, varying from negative thoughts associated with depression, the constant buzzing of fear associated with anxiety disorders to psychosis. But what I have unexpectedly come to realize is the lesser-discussed, disorienting feeling of sudden and unexpected mental clarity after a prolonged period of negative and anxious thinking.

This rapid change in mental state, however positive, can be just as disconcerting as the constant barrage of the negative thoughts that had become the new “normal.” Like waking from a dream, the once sharp thoughts dull into faded memory; the details you were convinced were correct are suddenly harsh and jarring in their inaccuracy, and the abrupt silence is suffocating. Every past failure to articulate your emotions and behavior is suddenly shifted into focus with shocking clarity, all at once. If you experience mood instability, this can also come with the sense of dread associated with a sudden and dramatic shift in mood out of your control. It’s like the “up” of a roller coaster, knowing the plummet is on the other side, being painfully aware of it all, but without the ability to prevent it from happening again. I find myself analyzing every situation I have failed to see clearly; every emotion that led to an overreaction, every irrational fear that consumed my time, relationships lost or altered and how I could/would/should have handled it better, and to me, it doesn’t quite feel like the relief I was promised.

Lack of understanding of the spectrum of mental illnesses within society has led to pervasive misconceptions that can seep into our everyday approach to life and recovery. We like to separate people into categories such as “unwell” and “better” and because of this, we tend to shrink away from any idea that threatens to conflate positive forward movement with any sense of negativity. We want recovery to be a straight and easily-defined line. To those who have never experienced disordered thinking, the world is cleanly split into “good” and “bad” thoughts; the truth is that to many of us, our emotions and thoughts are more complex than that. This over-simplification can lead to feelings of inadequacy, like we are rejecting our own recovery or that we don’t deserve to recover from our illness, or manage our symptoms.

The important thing to recognize here is you are not alone. Resistance to this seemingly positive event is not a resistance to recovery, and it isn’t a sign that you are lost to your illness. It is a perfectly natural response to a drastic shift in thinking. If you are struggling to make sense of it all, know this feeling will pass.

In the short-term, try to find an outlet for your thoughts. Write, draw, sing, take up a hobby or reach out to old friends. Be mindful that you should continue to seek professional guidance at this time, or continue to talk to someone you trust, even if right now you feel “better.”

For the long-term, use it to prepare yourself for the future — analyze your triggers and learn to recognize them, download NHS recommended apps (CalmHarm, Catch It) and familarize yourself with coping or distraction techniques. If you have noticed a pattern of destructive behavior, acknowledging it can be half the battle.While it can be uncomfortable facing up to things that have occurred while in the throes of mental illness (especially if it means addressing harm we have caused to ourselves or others) it is something that can prove invaluable to us in the future.

Constantly fighting against your own mind can be exhausting, and it can be disheartening when even a positive shift in mental state feels overwhelming, but you are not alone, and you can channel it into something meaningful for yourself. Recovery is not linear, and we shouldn’t expect it to be — it’s complex and unique. Progress is a triumph, no matter how small or how hard you fought to get there, even if it doesn’t immediately feel like a relief.

Getty Images photo via berdsigns


Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.


Related to Mental Health

14 Ways Repressed Childhood Abuse Affects You in Adulthood

14 Ways Repressed Childhood Abuse Affects You in Adulthood

When you grew up in an incredibly abusive or invalidating environment, sometimes the way your brain and body learn to cope is by repressing memories. While this is a survival tactic that can serve children well in the midst of abuse, once the child grows up and leaves the abusive environment, repressed memories can resurface [...]

When Childhood Emotional Abuse Makes You Fear Men as an Adult

When my father yells, I try to stand my ground — but my quicksand sucks me into the dark unknown, while he remains tall on his high horse. The years of hurt, the fear of the bigger man with the stronger words takes over. How, after all these years, does he still hold so much [...]
woman sad

Why 'Letting Go' of My Childhood Trauma Won't Cure My Mental Illness

When I explain that I am struggling with mental illness, I am often faced with people questioning why. I usually start off with a fairly terse and technical response about it being a combination of genetics and life experiences, but that answer rarely seems to appease anyone. Though I am not quite sure why so many people [...]
16 Small, but Significant, 'Lifestyle' Changes That Help 20-Somethings With Mental IllnessAdd heading

16 Small, but Significant, 'Lifestyle' Changes That Help 20-Somethings With Mental Illness

If you are a 20-something who lives with a mental illness, you’ve probably had more than one run-in with unprompted (and unwanted) advice from folks who swear they know how to “fix” it. And while it’s more than just annoying when people swear they have the “miracle cure” to mental health struggles, the reality is, there are day-to-day changes you [...]